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Bad breath, also known as Halitosis, can be very embarrassing. There are many causes of halitosis but, similar to other oral health issues, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ treatment, and your dentist will need to investigate the underlying cause before introducing a treatment plan.

What causes bad breath?

The sulphur-producing bacteria living on the tongue and throat can start to break down proteins at a high rate resulting in odorous volatile sulphur compounds (or VSC) being released. Halitosis is not infectious, and only 2.4% of the adult population suffers from bad breath.

Other causes of bad breath include:

  • Dental factors — such as periodontitis (gum infections) or poor oral hygiene.
  • Dry mouth – resulting from medication, alcohol intake, stress or underlying medical conditions.
  • Smoking – this starves the mouth of oxygen.
  • Foods – onions, garlic, cauliflower and so forth, these induce certain odours; however, the effects last only a short period.

Other less common causes of halitosis include:

  • Acid reflux from the stomach,
  • Post-nasal discharge – due to chronic sinusitis,
  • Kidney failure, carcinomas, metabolic dysfunctions, and biochemical disorders.

Signs of bad breath

Halitosis can react differently in each person; however, the most common signs include:

  • White coating on the tongue,
  • Dry mouth,
  • Build up around the teeth,
  • Post-nasal drip or mucous,
  • Morning breath or a burning tongue,
  • Thick saliva and a need to constantly clear your throat, and
  • A constant sour, bitter or metallic taste.

Bad breath can have a serious impact on a person; having people react to your breath by turning their heads or backing away when they talk to you can impact your confidence and self-esteem.

How to avoid or get rid of bad breath?

Your general dentist will be able to identify the underlying cause of your bad breath and identify the best treatment for you. Typically, if you stay hydrated and maintaining good oral hygiene (including brushing and flossing) will help keep bad breath at bay. There are also mouthwashes, lozenges, and certain types of toothpaste made to combat bad breath.

Maintaining good oral health

If you are not sure whether your bad breath is caused by poor oral health or an underlying health condition, first assess your daily routine. If you are not cleaning your teeth and mouth regularly or thoroughly, food particles can remain, and sticky bacteria and plaque will begin to form. The uneven surface of our tongues as well as our tonsils creates a perfect trap for these food particles and bacteria — emitting a bad breath odour.

Not only does poor oral hygiene contribute to bad breath, but it also causes other conditions such as cavities and gum diseases. Maintaining a good oral health routine is your best defence to fighting bad breath. See our guide to finding the right mouthwash that suits you.

Tongue Cleaning

Your general dentist may recommend to include tongue cleaning into your daily routine. You can clean your tongue using a toothbrush, tongue brush or tongue scraper. When cleaning, you will need to ensure you remain gentle but thorough and move from the back of your tongue down to the front. The hardest to reach part of your tongue is often where the bacteria are hiding.

When to see a doctor

If you have amended your oral health habits and started using mouthwash, floss and other hygiene tools, and you are still noticing bad breath, speak to your dentist or doctor for further advice and investigation.